Examining the meaning of the language used to communicate the nursing hand-off

Benjamin J. Galatzan, Jane M. Carrington

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The miscommunication and inconsistent recall of patient information due to cognitive lapses that occur during the hand-off between healthcare providers account for 80% of sentinel events in acute care. Cognitive lapses are a consequence of the nurse experiencing cognitive overload, which impedes the nurse's ability to recall relevant information during and after the hand-off communication. The primary cognitive and human factor contributing to cognitive overload in the hand-off is language. The purpose of this study was to examine the meaning of the language used to communicate the nurse-to-nurse change of shift hand-off occurring at bedside and nonbedside on a medical-surgical unit in an urban medical center. A qualitative descriptive design was used. The sample was 10 audio-recorded hand-offs (five bedside and five nonbedside), with a total of 19 nurses participating. A natural language process program was used to analyze the data. The hand-off is a narrative story centered on communicating patient information delivered with a high degree of confidence. The hand-off is focused on past and current events with minimal focus on future or anticipated events. The drive to communicate is minimally based on concern, fear, or danger. There is a difference in the language used to communicate the nursing hand-off message at bedside as compared to the nonbedside hand-off.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)833-843
Number of pages11
JournalResearch in Nursing and Health
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2021


  • cognitive overload-communication natural
  • language processing
  • nursing hand-off
  • nursing informatics
  • qualitative research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nursing(all)


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